Have you ever seen the aftermath of a hurricane? Most of us have seen pictures on television or in the newspaper, and I am sure some of you have actually lived through a hurricane's destruction.

Several years ago my family visited my in-laws just weeks after a Category 3 hurricane had gone through their area. The destruction left by that hurricane was not really able to be captured by pictures. Although these can help people understand better what has happened, it is different to drive through the area and see how many homes and buildings were really damaged. That trip opened my eyes to the power of a hurricane.

Perhaps because hurricanes are so destructive, a lot of science is dedicated to helping us understand why they happen and how to follow their paths. Hurricanes occur when warm, lower ocean water that is over 80 degrees mixes with cooler upper air. The warmer waters happen most around the equator; therefore hurricanes form there most often. When the hurricane moves onto land, it fizzles out because it no longer has the warm water energizing it from below. To find out when a hurricane will begin, meteorologists use tracking satellites that alert them to the developing hurricane. Computers estimate where they believe the hurricane will go, and airplanes fly into the storm area to get more accurate and reliable information. This information is then passed on to the public so they can be prepared if the hurricane is headed toward their town.

Fascinating Fact

When an area over the ocean has an organized area of low pressure with winds at less than 39 miles per hour, it is called a tropical depression. If the tropical depression intensifies to winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour, it becomes a tropical storm. Any tropical storm  with winds 74 miles or more per hour is a hurricane.

Give It a Try  #1: Track a Hurricane 

You can print out a tracking map to follow any hurricane this season at www.fema.gov/kids/hurrtrac.htm. To track a hurricane, you can either listen to the media meteorologists when they give the current coordinates of the storm or visit www.nhc.noaa.gov to get the latest longitude and latitude coordinates.

Fascinating Fact 

A wind storm of 74 miles or more per hour is only called a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the eastern Pacific Ocean. In the western Pacific Ocean the same storm would be called a typhoon. In the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and Australia, these storms are called cyclones.

Give It a Try #2: Strongest and Weakest Parts of a Hurricane

Items Needed:

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large wooden spoon
  • Water
  • Paper clip
  • String

Fill the large bowl 2/3 full of water. Next, cut a 10-inch piece of string and tie one end to the paper clip. Using the wooden spoon, stir the water until it is moving in a circular motion. While the water is in motion, drop the paper clip into the water in different locations. Write down your observations and determine where the paper clip traveled the fastest. This location will be where the strongest part of the storm is located. Based on this knowledge, where is the weakest part of the storm? 

Fascinating Fact 

You can try creating a hurricane online here. And you can try aiming a hurricane across a map online here.

Give it a Try #3: Wind Speeds and Water Depth 

Items Needed: 

  • 9"×13" baking dish
  • Flexible straw
  • Duct tape
  • Water
  • Ruler
  • 2+ people

Place the baking dish on a solid surface. Next, bend the flexible straw into an L-shape with the long section making the bottom of the L. Tape the short section of the straw to the middle of the 9" side of the baking dish so it points straight up and the long section hovers about 1/2 inch above the bottom of the baking dish. Pour water into the dish carefully until its level is just below the long section of the straw.